BY THE BOCA GRANDE HISTORICAL SOCIETY- In 1988, an interview with journalist Frank Oliver appeared in the Boca Beacon. Oliver, then 86, and his wife Mary called a house on Park Avenue home from 1952 to 1992, when Frank died at 90.
Oliver was born in England. When he decided to pursue journalism, his father said that if he did that, he could “never darken my door again.”
Frank wrote and sold a sports article on a major cricket match between England and Australia. As a result, he was offered a regular job as a weekly columnist. And he heard that his father read his column to the family every Friday. When Frank returned home, he was welcomed with open arms.
At 20 years old, Oliver left England and went to China. There he served as a correspondent for the London Daily Express, first in Hong Kong and then Shanghai. Then he spent ten years in Peking for Reuters, at the time the largest news service in the world. In 1927, he interviewed Chiang Kai-shek and followed his march from Canton to Shanghai. He wrote that “China was ruled by warlords. Chiang was the first man to bring unification to China either by forcing the warlords to join them or by defeating them.”
In 1929, Oliver was captured by the Communists and feared he would be killed, but he was released. Later he was captured by the Japanese and again feared for his life. In 1939, Oliver wrote a book, “Undeclared War,” about Japanese aggression in China during the 1930s.
Oliver recounts that “World War II had a lot to do with the Communists and Japanese moving in and destroying a lot of what Chiang was trying to do. There was great poverty and dissatisfaction, and the Communists made use of it. The Chinese people were lovely and Peking was a wonderful city. It was a comfortable living, and for a newspaperman something was going on every day.”
In 1940, Oliver went to work in Washington D.C., first for Reuters and then for The Times of London.
“Washington had all the earmarks of a quiet Southern town. Then on Dec. 7, 1941 it exploded. It was exciting and there was too much news.”
Roosevelt had frequent press conferences. Oliver thought that by Roosevelt’s death, he’d covered more than 250 of FDR’s press conferences. He thought of Roosevelt as one of the “most impressive figures he knew on a personal basis.” Winston Churchill was the other. Oliver also covered the early years of the United Nations
In 1946, Oliver flew a rented plane and landed on The Gasparilla Inn golf course. In Boca Grande, Oliver was involved in two newspapers, the Gasparilla Gazette and the Out Islander. He became friends with Jane Englehard (they had China in common), Arthur (both were intellectuals) and Nina Houghton and Jean (also a reporter) and Lillian Baube. He helped Louise Crowinshield found the Boca Grande Health Clinic, and served as its president. Later he spent time almost daily with Dr. Hank Wright.
Oliver described the island in 1952 as “a quiet hideaway, difficult to get to. There was just the ferry and the railroad … and the old tarpon guide boat dock was a great place.”
Frank Oliver’s friend, Jean Baube, was a French journalist and confidant of Charles de Gaulle who spent 30 years as counselor for press relations at the French Embassy in Washington. He retired in 1974 and moved to Boca Grande.
Born in Paris, Baube began his career with Havas, the French news agency in London. He moved to Washington in 1936 and then returned to London in 1941 to join the Free French Forces under de Gaulle. He remained on de Gaulle’s staff until 1945, when he returned to Washington and the French Embassy. He was a member of the National Press Club in Washington and an officer in the French Legion of Honor. He died in 1988.
During this same time, John W. “Pat” Heffernan and his wife, Ewa, were also retired in Boca Grande. Like Oliver, Heffernan was British. He began his career in the 1930s on London’s Fleet Street at the Central News Agency. After fighting with the British Army in East Africa and Burma during World War II and rising in rank from private to major, he joined Reuters in 1946, first covering the United Nations and then working as chief correspondent with the news agency’s Washington bureau. He covered five American presidents, from Eisenhower to Ford.
In December 1968, Heffernan was elected president of the National Press Club. His election required an act of Congress to allow a non-U.S. citizen to head a corporation with a liquor license. President Lyndon Johnson wrote to Heffernan, “Seven score and fourteen years ago, your fathers brought forth on this continent a conflagration. In short, they burned down the house I am now living in. I think there is no more heartening evidence of our accepting bygones as bygones than your election as President of the National Press Club.”
In England, Queen Elizabeth made Heffernan an officer of the Order of the British Empire (1965) and a Commander (CBE) in 1970.
During his retirement in Boca Grande, Heffernan served as secretary of the board of the Clinic and was often the spokesperson for the organization during the building of the “new” Clinic during the 1980s. He died in 2007 at the age of 96.
In December, 1988, Frank White told the Boca Beacon about dangling from a C130 aircraft over a marine airstrip in Khe Sahn before being pulled into the plane by fellow journalist Peter Arnett and an Air Force loadmaster. Minutes after his rescue, the plane, having been hit by enemy fire, made an emergency landing at another airfield.
The article went on: “White eventually made it to Saigon in time to witness the start of the bloody Tet offensive by North Vietnam.”
White began his career as a reporter in 1939 with United Press just after graduating from Stanford. A roommate was working with UP and helped White get a job. After training in Portland, Oregon, he was assigned as bureau chief in Monterey, California at the pay of $15 per week. He noted that he’d taken the job to “meet people and for the adventure.” He found both, meeting John Steinbeck, Dorothy Thompson and Sinclair Lewis as well as various Hollywood types who visited Monterey.
White’s next assignment was in Mexico City. He was there when Pearl Harbor was bombed, knocked on the door of the Japanese Embassy and secured an interview with the ambassador, who told him that “in two months, the Japanese “would be in control of Indo-China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Burma … a pretty accurate account of how the war turned out.”
During World War II, White served as a military intelligence officer with the OSS (predecessor of the CIA), continuing his adventures in Casablanca, India and Sri Lanka. He also spent part of his training in his hometown, Rockford, Illinois, where he met a former girlfriend from high school, Dru, who later became his wife.
After the war, White first went back to UP and then joined Time Life as a staff correspondent in Paris in 1948. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was Time Life’s bureau chief in Brazil, Paris and both Germanys. In 1968, he spent three months in Vietnam, resulting in the story of dangling from the C130 as well as others. Once retired, the Whites came to Boca Grande and built a house on Harbor Drive. White died in 2002 at the age of 85.
In the 1988 Boca Beacon article, White made some comments about the media. Quoting a recent issue of Time magazine, White said that “the public thinks the press is rude, cynical, unpatriotic, twists facts, and worst of all, walks off without regard to the pain it left behind. Are we really that bad? You’d better believe it. But our saving grace is that we’re not that all the time.” The Beacon concluded, “White has seen enough of the world to know that America’s news media are the best in the world. He also knows it could be better.”
Thank you to David Futch and Daniel Godwin, both of whom helped with materials on which this article is based. The Small Town Papers archives, where early issues of the Beacon are stored, is also an excellent source for researchers.
To learn more about the history of Boca Grande and Gasparilla Island, visit the History Center website <https:bocagrandhistoricalsociety.com>, like us on Facebook, or when open visit the History Center at 170 Park Ave. or call 964-1600. The History Center welcomes input from all. Please send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The History Center Archives also invites the community to lend photographs, documents or other materials which it will scan and return to the lender.